In years past, police headquarters was not a place where you'd choose to spend an evening. But that's not so anymore -- at least in Boston. Lots of folks are heading there.
Boston has a penchant for turning old historic public correctional and legal facilities into luxury properties with brand new uses. Investors turned the sad and rundown Charles Street Jail into the elegant Liberty Hotel a few years ago, complete with the trendy "Clink" bar and "Alibi" cocktail lounge.
And now, they have done the same thing with the old Boston Police Department main headquarters on Berkeley Street. Loews Hotels operates the splendid boutique hotel in the converted building above ground -- and it has just opened a new high-end restaurant below, appropriately named the Precinct Kitchen and Bar.
Even before its opening bash on Mayday, Thursday, the new addition to restaurant row in the Back Bay was enjoying a roomful of diners and embibers last Friday night with the kitchen humming and the drinks menu luring the thirsty to try mixologist Eben Klemm's creative inventions.
Klemm's "Fix," a cocktail that looks like a tall glass of dark ale but is actually a mixture of sweet Madeira and fresh pineapple juice, was a big hit. Klemm was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology biology major and biologist by trade until he went to New York and tended bar to make some extra money and fell in love with bartending and mixology.
My husband, who makes a pretty good Old Fashioned of his own, was bowled over by Klemm's Smoky Old Fashioned, which featured bitters first cooked with cinnamon and creme de peche, heated until smoking, then cooled by a dribble of simple syrup, which stops the cooking and adds lots of flavor to the classic drink.
Precinct Kitchen's dinner menu is small but significant, including Seared Georges Bank Scallops, Hanger and Ribeye Steak, Roasted Chicken and a full clambake featuring Wellfleet Cape Cod clams, Prince Edward Island mussels, shrimp, corn, red potato and local kielbasa. The most interesting entree is the Grilled Bronzino, a European bass that is flown in fresh every day from the Atlantic, and served as a full unfilleted fish in a sauce of roasted fennel, citrus and shallot vinaigrette.
An elaborate charcuterie board from the bar can start the meal, complete with duck parfait and a selection of sausages and prosciutto. The baby kale salad with arugula, quinoa, orange segments, sunflower seeds, shaved feta and citrus vinaigrette is big enough for two to split, and among the innovative sides are Parmesan truffles fried.
Overseeing the delicate flavor mixes is Executive Chef Olivier Senoussaoui, a native of Southwestern France in the Dordogne Perigord region, home of the wonderful cuisine and wines of Bordeaux. He is accompanied in the kitchen by sous chef Adam Radzevich and throughout the casual and comfortable dining room and bar by assistant food and beverage director Rob McCarron.
Of the five dessert choices we ordered the most unusual: "Strawberries and Cream on Brioche Toast," a flavorful fruity mix of the berries and a crusty chewy brioche under it all. No one complained when we shared this enormous dish; in fact, three or four diners could have had their fill before the dish was emptied.
Precinct serves as the hotel kitchen for Loews in Boston, so it serves all three meals each day for the hotel guests and the public, who stream in from the insurance companies and business offices that surround the site. A hint of the building's colorful past comes in the form of old photos on the walls, of Boston police officers at work in the building and out on the street.
As soon as Boston truly warms up to spring and summer, the outdoor patio outside the restaurant, a few steps below the sidewalk level and cozied in by comfortable banquettes, hedges, flowers and lights strung across the top of the space, will surely be filled with diners who want to hang out and eat their dinner under the stars with no fear of being arrested for disorderly conduct by the kitchen crew inside, who have replaced the officers of the law.